Acts 24 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Acts 24
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And after five days Ananias the high priest descended with the elders, and with a certain orator named Tertullus, who informed the governor against Paul.

(1) After five days.—The interval may have just allowed time for messengers to go from Cæsarea to Jerusalem, and for the priests to make their arrangements and engage their advocate. Possibly, however, the five days may start from St. Paul’s departure from Jerusalem and this agrees, on the whole, better with the reckoning of the twelve days from the Apostle’s arrival there, in Acts 24:11.

Descended.—Better, came down, in accordance with the usage of modern English.

A certain orator named Tertullus.—Men of this class were to be found in most of the provincial towns of the Roman empire, ready to hold a brief for plaintiff or defendant, and bringing to bear the power of their glib eloquence, as well as their knowledge of Roman laws, on the mind of the judge. There is not the slightest ground for supposing, as some have done, that the proceedings were conducted in Latin, and that while the chief priests were obliged to employ an advocate to speak in that language, St. Paul, who had never learnt it, was able to speak at once by a special inspiration. Proceedings before a procurator of Judæa and the provincials under him were almost of necessity, as in the case of our Lord and Pilate, in Greek. Had St. Paul spoken in Latin, St. Luke, who records when he spoke in Hebrew (Acts 21:40), and when in Greek (Acts 21:37), was not likely to have passed the fact over; nor is there any evidence, even on that improbable assumption, that St. Paul himself, who was, we know, a Roman citizen, had no previous knowledge of the language. The strained hypothesis breaks down at every point. The name of the orator may be noted as standing half-way between Tertius and Tertullianus.

Who informed the governor against Paul.—The word is a technical one, and implies something of the nature of a formal indictment.

And when he was called forth, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying, Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence,
(2) Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness.—The orator had, it would seem, learnt the trick of his class, and begins with propitiating the judge by flattery. The administration of Felix did not present much opening for panegyric, but he had at least taken strong measures to put down the gangs of sicarii and brigands by whom Palestine was infested (Jos. Ant. xx. 8, § 5; Wars, ii. 13, § 2), and Tertullus shows his skill in the emphasis which he lays on “quietness.” By a somewhat interesting coincidence, Tacitus (Ann. xii. 54), after narrating the disturbances caused by a quarrel between Felix, backed by the Samaritans, and Ventidius Cumanus, who had been appointed as governor of Galilee, ends his statement by relating that Felix was supported by Quadratus, the president of Syria, “et quies provinciæ reddita.”

That very worthy deeds . . .—Better, reforms, or improvements; the better MSS. giving a word which expresses this meaning, and the others one which implies it. This, as before, represents one aspect of the procurator’s administration. On the other hand, within two years of this time, he was recalled from his province, accused by the Jews at Rome, and only escaped punishment by the intervention of his brother Pallas, then as high in favour with Nero as he had been with Claudius (Jos. Ant. xx. 8, § 10).

By thy providence . . .—The Greek word had at this time, like the English, a somewhat higher sense than “prudence” or “forethought.” Men spoke then, as now, of the “providence” of God, and the tendency to clothe the emperors with quasi-divine attributes led to the appearance of this word—“the providence of Cæsar”—on their coins and on medals struck in their honour. Tertullus, after his manner, goes one step further, and extends the term to the procurator of Judæa.

We accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness.
Notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious unto thee, I pray thee that thou wouldest hear us of thy clemency a few words.
(4) That I be not further tedious . . .—Better, that I may not detain thee too long. Here again we note the tact of the sycophant. He speaks as if obliged to restrain himself from the further panegyrics which his feelings would naturally prompt.

Of thy clemency . . .—The Greek word expresses the idea of equitable consideration. The epithets of the hired orator stand in striking contrast with the “righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come,” of which the Apostle afterwards spoke to the same ruler.

For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes:
(5) We have found this man a pestilent fellow.—The Greek gives the more emphatic substantive, a pestilence, a plague. The advocate passes from flattering the judge to invective against the defendant, and lays stress on the fact that he is charged with the very crimes which Felix prided himself on repressing. St. Paul, we may well believe, did not look like a sicarius, or brigand, but Tertullus could not have used stronger language had he been caught red-handed in the fact.

A mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world.—The “world” is, of course, here, as elsewhere, the Roman empire. (See Note on Luke 2:1.) The language may simply be that of vague invective, but we may perhaps read between the lines some statements gathered, in preparing the case, from the Jews of Thessalonica (Acts 17:6) and Ephesus (Acts 21:28) who had come to keep the Feast of Pentecost at Jerusalem.

A ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.—This is the first appearance of the term of reproach as transferred from the Master to the disciples. (Comp. Note on John 1:46.) It has continued to be used by both Jews and Mahometans; and it has been stated (Smith’s Dict. of Bible, Art. “Nazarene”), that during the Indian Mutiny of 1855 the Mahometan rebels relied on a supposed ancient prophecy that the Nazarenes would be expelled from the country after ruling for a hundred years.

Who also hath gone about to profane the temple: whom we took, and would have judged according to our law.
(6) Who also hath gone about to profane the temple.—Better, who even attempted to profane. Here the case was clearly to be supported by the evidence of the Jews of Asia. The charge, we see, was modified from that in Acts 21:28. Then they had asserted that he had actually taken Trophimus within the sacred precincts. Now they were contented with accusing him of the attempt.

Whom we took . . .—The advocate throughout identifies himself, after the manner of his calling, with his clients; and in his hands the tumult in the Temple becomes a legal arrest by the officers of the Temple, which was to have been followed in due course by a legal trial, as for an offence against the law of Israel, before a religious tribunal.

The words from “according to our law” to “come unto thee” are omitted in many MSS., and may have been either the interpolation of a scribe, or a later addition from the hand of the writer. Assuming them to be part of the speech, they are an endeavour to turn the tables on Lysias by representing him as the real disturber of the peace. All was going on regularly till his uncalled-for intervention.

But the chief captain Lysias came upon us, and with great violence took him away out of our hands,
Commanding his accusers to come unto thee: by examining of whom thyself mayest take knowledge of all these things, whereof we accuse him.
(8) By examining of whom . . .—Literally, from whom thou shalt be able, by examining him thyself, to know thoroughly . . . The English construction suggests that the “accusers” are the persons to be examined, but as the Greek relative is in the singular this cannot possibly be the meaning. Tertullus apparently suggests that the judge should interrogate the prisoner—perhaps, by using a technical term, with a well-understood significance, that he should examine him by scourging, or some other mode of torture. Strictly speaking, the “examination” of Which Tertullus speaks was a preliminary inquiry, previous to the actual trial, to ascertain whether there were sufficient grounds for further proceedings. It will be observed that he keeps back the fact of St. Paul’s being a Roman, and it does not follow that Tertullus knew that Lysias had informed Felix of it. It is possible, however, after all, if we admit the genuineness of Acts 24:7, that the relative pronoun may refer to Lysias and not to the Apostle; and this agrees with the language of Felix in Acts 24:22.

And the Jews also assented, saying that these things were so.
Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak, answered, Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself:
(10) Forasmuch as I know . . .—We note at once the difference between St. Paul’s frank manliness and the servile flattery of the advocate. He is content to appeal to the experience of the “many years” (really about six, but this was more than the average duration of a procuratorship, and the words might, therefore, be used without exaggeration) during which he had held office. Such a man was not likely to attach too much weight to the statements of Tertullus and Ananias. Felix, after having ruled for a short time with a divided authority (see Note on Acts 24:2), had superseded Cumanus in A.D. 52 or 53.

I do the more cheerfully answer for myself.—The verb for “answer” is connected with our English “apology” in its older sense of “vindication” or “defence.”

Because that thou mayest understand, that there are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship.
(11) I went up to Jerusalem for to worship.—This was, by implication, St. Paul’s answer to the charge of the attempted profanation. One who had come to worship was not likely to be guilty of the crime alleged against him.

And they neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city:
(12) They neither found me in the temple . . .—The answer traverses all parts of the indictment. He had not even entered into a discussion in the Temple. He had not even gathered a crowd around him in any part of the city. He challenges the accusers to bring any adequate evidence—i.e., that of two or three witnesses, independent and agreeing—in proof of their charges.

Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me.
But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:
(14) After the way which they call heresy.—Better, which they call a sect. The Greek noun is the same as in Acts 24:5, and ought, therefore, to be translated by the same English word. As it is, the reader does not see that the “way” had been called a heresy. In using the term “the way,” St. Paul adopts that which the disciples used of themselves (see Note on Acts 9:2), and enters an implied protest against the use of any less respectful and more invidious epithet.

So worship I the God of my fathers.—Better, perhaps, so serve I, the word being different from that in Acts 24:11, and often translated by “serve” elsewhere (Acts 7:7; Hebrews 8:5). The “service” includes worship, but is wider in its range of meaning.

Believing all things which are written . . .—This was a denial of the second charge, of being a ring leader of a sect. His faith in all the authoritative standards of Judaism was as firm and full as that of any Pharisee. The question whether that belief did or did not lead to the conviction that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, was one of interpretation, with which Felix, at all events, had nothing to do, and which St. Paul, when making a formal apologia before a Roman ruler, declines to answer.

And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.
(15) Which they themselves also allow . . .—We have the same tact, perhaps also the same sympathy, as in Acts 23:6. He identifies himself, on this point, not only with the Pharisees but with the great bulk of the Jewish people.

And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.
(16) And herein do I exercise myself . . .—The “herein” seems equivalent to “in this belief.” Because he held that doctrine of a resurrection as a stern and solemn reality, the one law of his life was to keep his conscience clear from wilful sin. (See Note on Acts 23:1.) The words must have been almost as bitter to Felix as to Ananias; but he has, at all events, the decency to listen in silence.

Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings.
(17) Now after many years.—Four years had passed since the previous visit of Acts 18:22. The use of “many” in this instance may be noted as throwing light on Acts 24:10.

To bring alms to my nation, and offerings.—The “alms” were, of course, the large sums of money which St. Paul had been collecting, since his last visit, for the disciples (possibly in part, also, for those who were not disciples) at Jerusalem. It is noticeable that this is the only mention in the Acts of that which occupies so prominent a place in the Epistles of this period. (See Romans 15:25; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1-4.) The manifestly undesigned coincidence between the Acts and the Epistles on this point has naturally often been dwelt on by writers on the evidences which each supplies to the other. The “offerings” were the sacrifices which the Apostle was about to offer on the completion of the Nazarite vow with which he had associated himself. There is, perhaps, a refined courtesy in St. Paul’s use of the word “nation” (commonly used only of the heathen) instead of the more usual “people.” He avoids the term which would have implied a certain assumption of superiority to the magistrate before whom he stood. (See Notes on Matthew 25:32; Matthew 28:19.)

Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude, nor with tumult.
(18) Whereupon certain Jews from Asia . . .—Literally, in which things, or wherein. Many of the better MSS. give the relative pronoun in the feminine, as agreeing with “offerings,” and indicating that he was, as it were, occupied with them at the very time when the Jews from Asia found him, not profaning the Temple, but purified with all the completeness which the Nazarite vow required.

Who ought to have been here before thee, and object, if they had ought against me.
(19) Who ought to have been here before thee.—The originators of the disturbance shrank from the consequences of their actions, and either remained at Jerusalem or else started on their homeward journey as soon as the Feast was over.

Or else let these same here say, if they have found any evil doing in me, while I stood before the council,
(20) If they have found any evil doing in me . . .—The better MSS. give, “what evil thing” (or, what wrong act) “they found in me.” This, from St. Paul’s point of view, was the one instance in which any words of his had been even the occasion of an uproar, and in them he had but proclaimed a belief which he held in common with their best and wisest teachers. So far as the proceedings before the Council were concerned, he had not even entered on the question of the Messiahship or the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

Except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you this day.
And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way, he deferred them, and said, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter.
(22) Having more perfect knowledge of that way . . .—Better, of the way. (See Note on Acts 9:2.) The comparative implies a reference to an average standard. Felix was too well-informed to yield any answer to the declamatory statements of Tertullus. He saw that the prisoner was no common Sicarius, or leader of sedition. He knew something as to the life of the sect of Nazarenes. That knowledge may well have been acquired either at Jerusalem, which the procurator would naturally visit at the great festivals and other occasions, or at Cæsarea, where, as we know, Philip the Evangelist had, some twenty-five years before, founded a Christian community, which included among its members Cornelius and other Roman soldiers, or even, we may add, in the imperial capital itself. His wife Drusilla, also, the daughter of Herod Agrippa I., may have contributed something to his knowledge.

I will know the uttermost of your matter.—Leaving the general attack on the “way” of the Nazarenes, or Christians, Felix proposes to inquire into the actual circumstances of the case brought before him. It is remarkable that this adjournment leads to an indefinite postponement. Possibly the accusers felt that they had fired their last shot in the speech of Tertullus, and, seeing that that had failed, thought that the judge had made up his mind against them, and withdrew from the prosecution. The detention of the prisoner under such circumstances was only too common an incident in the provincial administration of justice in the Roman empire, as it has since been in other corrupt or ill-governed states.

And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him.
(23) And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul.—More accurately, the centurion—either the officer in whose custody he had been placed by Lysias, or the one who had the special charge of the prisoners waiting for trial. The favourable impression made on Felix is shown by the unusual leniency with which the prisoner was treated. The attribute of “clemency,” on which the orator had complimented Felix, was not altogether dead, but it was shown to the accused and not to the accusers.

And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.
(24) Felix came with his wife Drusilla.—She was, as has been said (see Note on Acts 23:26), the daughter of the first Herod Agrippa and the sister of the second. In her name, the diminutive of Drusus, and borne also by a sister of Caligula’s, we trace the early connection of her father with that emperor. She was but six years of age at the time of her father’s death. She had been married at an early age to Azizus, king of Emesa, who had become a proselyte, and accepted circumcision. Felix fell in love with her, and employed the services of a Jewish magician named Simon, whom some writers have identified with the sorcerer of Samaria (see Note on Acts 8:9), to seduce her from her husband. By her marriage with Felix she had a son named Agrippa, who perished in an eruption of Vesuvius (Jos. Ant. xix. 7; xx. 5). It follows from the facts of her life that she could scarcely have been altogether unacquainted with the history of the new society. She must have known of the death of James and the imprisonment of Peter (Acts 12). She may have connected her father’s tragic end at Cæsarea with the part he had taken in persecuting the faith of which one of the chief preachers was now brought before her. It would seem, from her being with her husband at these interviews, that she was eager to learn more of “the faith in Christ.” Felix, too, seems to have been willing at first to listen. This new development of his wife’s religion, presenting, as it did, a higher aspect than that of the priests and elders of Jerusalem, was for him, at least, an object of more than common interest. The procurator and his wife were apparently in the first stage of an earnest inquiry which might have led to a conversion.

And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.
(25) Righteousness, temperance, and judgment.—The first word, like our English “justice,” includes in Greek ethics the duties which man owes to man. “Temperance” answers to a term with a somewhat wider sense than that which now attaches to the English word, and implies the state in which a man exercises control over all the passions that minister to sensuality, while he yet falls short of a perfect harmony between Reason and Emotion (Aristot. Eth. Nicom. vii. 7-10). What has been said of Felix shows how faulty his character was in both these respects. The selection of the unwelcome topics shows how little St. Paul belonged to the class of those who “compassed sea and land to make a proselyte” (Matthew 23:15). It would apparently have been easy to bring about this result with Felix and his wife, had the preacher been content to speak smooth things and prophecy deceits, to put the patch of a ceremonial Judaism on the old garment of a sensual life; but instead of this he presses home the truths which their state needed, and seeks to rouse conscience to something like activity. His own experience (Romans 7:7-23; Philippians 3:7-8), had taught him that, without this, neither doctrine nor ritual availed to deliver the soul from its bondage to evil, and bring it into the kingdom of God. But he does not confine himself, as a merely ethical teacher might have done, to abstract arguments on the beauty or the utility of “justice” and “temperance.” Here, also, his own experience was his guide, and he sought to make the guilty pair before whom he stood feel that the warnings of conscience were but the presage of a divine judgment which should render to every man according to his deeds. It will be noted that there is no mention here of the forgiveness of sins, nor of the life of fellowship with Christ. Those truths would have come, in due course, afterwards. As yet they would have been altogether premature. The method of St. Paul’s preaching was like that of the Baptist, and of all true teachers.

Felix trembled, and answered . . .—Conscience, then, was not dead, but its voice was silenced by the will which would not listen. Felix treats St. Paul as Antipas had treated the Baptist (Mark 6:20). He does not resent his plainness of speech; he shows a certain measure of respect for him, but he postpones acting “till a more convenient season,” and so becomes the type of the millions whose spiritual life is ruined by a like procrastination. Nothing that we know of him gives us any ground for thinking that the “convenient season” ever came.

He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him.
(26) He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul.—The Greek gives “hoping also,” as continuing the previous verse, and so places the fact in more immediate connection with the procurator’s conduct. This greed of gain in the very act of administering justice was the root-evil of the weak and wicked character. He had caught at the word “alms” in Acts 24:17. St. Paul, then, was not without resources. He had money himself, or he had wealthy friends; could not something be got out of one or both for the freedom which the prisoner would naturally desire?

He sent for him the oftener, and communed with him.—It is not difficult to represent to ourselves the character of these interviews, the suggestive hints—half-promises and half-threats—of the procurator, the steadfast refusal of the prisoner to purchase the freedom which he claimed as a right, his fruitless attempts to bring about a change for the better in his judge’s character.

But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix' room: and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.
(27) After two years Porcius Festus came into Felix’ room.—The English states the same fact as the Greek, but inverts the order. Literally, When a period of two years was accomplished, Felix received Porcius Festus as his successor. We can, of course, only conjecture how these years were spent. Some writers who maintain the Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews have assigned it to this period: others have supposed that the Epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon were written from Cæsarea; but there is no adequate evidence in support of either hypothesis. It is better to confine ourselves to the thought of the Apostle’s patient resignation, learning obedience by the things he suffered—of his intercourse with Philip, and other members of the Church of Cæsarea, as comforting and refreshing to him. We may venture, perhaps, to think of St. Luke, who had come with him to Jerusalem, and who sailed with him from Cæsarea, as not far off from him during his imprisonment. Attention has already been called (see Introduction to St. Luke’s Gospel and to the Acts) to the probable use made by the Evangelist of these opportunities for collecting materials for his two histories.

The change of administration was caused by the complaints which the Jews brought against Felix, and which led Nero to recall him. The influence of his brother Pallas availed, however, to save him from any further punishment. His successor, Festus, who came to the province in A.D. 60, died in his second year of office. Josephus (Wars, ii. 14, § 1) speaks of him as suppressing the outrages of the robbers who infested the country, and maintaining the tranquility of the province. Felix, with characteristic baseness, sought by his latest act to court the favour of the Jews, and left the Apostle in prison as a set-off against the many charges which were brought against him.

Willing to shew the Jews a pleasure.—Literally, to deposit a favour. The boon conferred was not to be without return. It was, so to speak, an investment in iniquity.

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